Darden Does Libations

By Posted on Feb 02 2010 | By

University of Virginia Darden School of Business

On January 29, the renown University of Virginia Darden School of Business hosted its first annual wine, beer and spirits MBA conference.

The event was sponsored by the school’s wine & cuisine club and featured an impressive array of speakers from the alcohol beverage industry.

The conference opened with a keynote presentation given by Robert Cavanaugh, a wine educator and marketing director and founder of Adventure Wine. Cavanaugh’s remarks centered on the burgeoning beverage industry and the growing career opportunities for graduating MBA students. He noted the expanding wine industry in the United States would soon result in the nation becoming the largest consumer of wine in the world.

One interesting insight was his take that the restaurant industry is broadly moving toward a reduction of its markups on dinner wines, stating, “Twice the markup is becoming the new three and half markup of the past.” Good news for consumers and creating an environment for accelerated growth of restaurants with reasonably priced wine lists.

Featured Speakers

Following his informative presentation, a panel of experts discussed today’s beverage industry. Representatives from Anheuser-Busch, E&J Gallo, Brown-Forman, Folio and Williamsburg Winery addressed a wide range of “hot topics”—as the panel was dubbed—including growth, marketing, and regulatory control.

One interesting insight was that most distributors today are not brand builders but simply delivery services, and wineries need to seek ways to create demand without relying on distributor relationships.

Following the opening session, held in the impressive Abbott Auditorium, attendees fanned out to breakout classrooms and played “MBA student” for a few hours. A choice of three sessions was offered: Entrepreneurship & Finance; Marketing; and Operations and Strategy.

I attended the marketing presentation and was rewarded with a fascinating glimpse of how major beverage firms identify and market their products. The presenters were from Gallo Winery, Anheuser-Busch and Guy Design and Illustration.

Lee Susen, Gallo’s Marketing Director, New Business Development, and a MBA grad from the University of Michigan, took our class though a fascinating power point presentation showcasing today’s wine market and how Gallo builds its brand. Two of his numerous observations were that Moscato, a sweet white with a gentle 9% alcohol level, was the fastest growing wine stateside with the potential to replace the entrenched white zinfandel.

He also noted, “Americans talk dry but drink sweet,” noting the growth in both red and white wines with residual sugar levels of one percent or more. Gallo’s market research shows when tasted blind, Americans often prefer the bit sweeter selections. Typically, dry wine hovers around .2 of a percent.

Katherine Booker, Innovation Manager, Anheuser-Busch, and a recent graduate from Darden, gave an equally interesting presentation on the beer industry. Booker spent some time focusing on a new beer that Busch will soon market nationwide called Select 55. It is a 2.4 percent alcohol brew with only 55 calories.

Breakout Session

Closing out the session, Allan Guy, owner of Guy Design, shared with the “students” several of his label redesigns, including Barcardi Run, Mount Vernon whiskey and five Virginia wine label upgrades.

As the day wound down, the attendees were treated to variety of wines and food during the evening reception. My wife Jean and I poured the Rappahannock Cellars 2008 Chardonnay and 2007 Meritage, garnering a number of compliments from the guests.

Darden is to be commended for conceiving and executing an excellent eight-hour conference packed with perspective and facts on today’s beverage industry.

Categories : WINE ARTICLES